By the early 1690s, as skipper of a vessel called The Amity, Captain Thomas Tew had become a well-known figure in Rhode Island.
New England historians like George Francis Dow, Edward Rowe Snowe and Howard Chapin assumed that Thomas Tew was a long-time resident of this English colony. This may have been the case, but there is little evidence of any man by that name living in Rhode Island before 1692.
In the seventeenth century, there were many people with the name of ‘Tew’ living in Rhode Island. The immigrant population of the colony was small. It grew from less than a thousand European settlers around 1650 to about six thousand people by 1700.
Some historians think that Thomas Tew was the son or grandson of Mary Clarke and Richard Tew of Maidford, England. Richard Tew was an important man in early Rhode Island history. There are no evidence, however, which proves any connection between Mary and Richard Tew with the mariner known as Thomas Tew.
This is despite that the fact there are many surviving documents concerning Richard Tew family. Richard Tew was born in Maidford, England in 1614. He married Mary Clarke in 1633. They left England with three children, William, John and Richard, for America in 1640. The Tew family was part of a wave of migrants known as The Great Migration.
Mary Tew gave birth to a fourth child, aptly named Seaborne Tew, while sailing to America. She had three more children in Rhode Island, Sarah, Elnatha and Mary.
Only three years later, in December of 1643, a man named ‘Thomas Tewe Marriner’ and ‘Tho Toue marriner’ appeared in the records of the ‘Aquidneck Quarter Court Records’ in Newport, Rhode Island. This mariner was involved in disputes over dispute with John Stretton and with John Coggeshall, a future governor of Rhode Island.
Given the dates of marriage for Richard Tew and Mary Clarke, it seems unlikely that this particular mariner was their son. It is also unknown if the mariner mentioned in the 1643 court records had a connection with the Thomas Tew who appeared in Rhode Island in the 1690s.
There is no doubt however, that at the time of the construction of a house by Eleazar Arnold in 1693, Captain Thomas Tew spent a great deal of his time in Rhode Island. He outfitted his vessel, The Amity, in Newport in the fall of 1692. Tew sailed with a crew of about fifty men to the Red Sea, and returned to Newport in April of 1694.
In December of that year, after having spent a long time preparing The Amity for another voyage to Indian Ocean, Tew set sail from Newport once again.
Captain Thomas Tew never returned to America.